Alcatel-Lucent Fires NG-PON2 Starting Gun

AMSTERDAM -- Broadband World Forum -- Alcatel-Lucent is aiming to get a head start on its fixed broadband infrastructure rivals with the launch of a commercial NG-PON2 product in the first quarter of 2015, as the access network speed war cranks up to another level.

But, as ever, where Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) is headed, it has company from rival Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , which is also talking up its NG-PON2 potential.

So what's all the fuss about?

NG-PON2 is a fiber broadband technology that's in the final stages of being standardized and which promises to deliver 40 Gbit/s of shared downstream capacity, compared with the 2.5 Gbit/s that current GPON systems can provide. The technology used for NG-PON2 is TWDM-PON (TDM/WDM-PON), a hybrid system that stacks four 10 GPONs onto a single fiber to deliver 40 Gbit/s capacity downstream. (See NG-PON2 Tech: A Done Deal?)

While much attention is being lavished on broadband technology advances that are squeezing ever greater data speeds from copper tails (vectoring and G.fast), fiber-to-the-whatever (home, building, cell site, cow shed) is still of interest to any operator with its own access network facilities, especially as the industry is agreed that (ultimately) pretty much every copper line will be supplanted by fiber connections. (See G.fast: The Dawn of Gigabit Copper? and Vectoring: Some Va-Va-Voom for VDSL.)

GPON has been the FTTx technology of choice to date, with tens of million of lines deployed globally -- more than 65 million, according to stats from research house Point Topic Ltd. The generation of technology that was originally expected to follow it, XG-PON1 (designed for 10 Gbit/s downstream), has failed to find a market.

Now, with high-capacity applications such as 4K and 8K video, real-time interactive gaming, next-gen backhaul and ultra high-speed enterprise connectivity on the horizon, it seems early demand exists for NG-PON2, which can use the same outside plant as GPON and deliver multiple services each with a dedicated wavelength.

Addressing the sparse keynote crowd here Tuesday morning, Alcatel-Lucent's president of fixed networks, Federico Guillén, stated that, from next year, operators could "future-proof" their networks with TWDM-PON gear.

Given the situation with the standard, that seemed bullish. But Stefaan Vanhastel, director of product marketing for fixed networks at AlcaLu, says that the standard will be largely complete by the end of this year and that any final updates/changes could be updated in software later. "We have a good enough view to create a standards-compliant product for the first quarter of 2015," with that product being a 4-port TWDM-PON line card.

Not only that, Alcatel-Lucent has a reference in the form of Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), which has been working with the vendor on its R&D and which is set to trial the technology in Spain. Vanhastel says other operators are also checking out TWDM-PON, mainly to deliver business services and backhaul.

But early adopters will encounter high prices: Vanhastel admits that "the cost [for the commercial product] will be what you would expect from a low-volume product." In one word -- expensive.

For more fixed broadband market coverage and insights, check out our dedicated Broadband content channel here on Light Reading.

And certainly customer cost is something on the mind of Huawei, which has had a prototype for some time and which claims to have trials with unspecified operators. Jeff Wang, president of the Chinese vendor's fixed access product line, says there is "still work to be done on standards and also on costs."

So can it match AlcaLu's 2015 timeline for commercial product? "A lot of vendors are investing in this, but we are confident that we are in the lead in the market… we are confident of being first" to market with a commercial product, he adds.

There is certainly a race on here, and it doesn't seem to be anything just to do with pride. Mobile broadband might be hot, but fixed broadband one-upsmanship is certainly not dead, and that's because the major operators are looking for a combination of the best of fixed with the best of cellular.

— Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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Duh! 10/22/2014 | 11:02:42 AM
Re: Cost is the only important spec Lots of moving parts in an ONT.  Last I'd seen (about 5 years ago), the biggest cost driver for 10G downstream was APDs.  Thermally tunable filters were relatively cheap.  Apparently, there's been progress on tunable lasers, but I'd imagine the 2.5 Gb/s upstream laser, with its tight specs, would be pretty pricey. 

My sense is that XG-PON1 and XG-PON2 is not going to be an FTTH play any time in the forseeable future.  It probably will be deployed for enterprise (to the extent that IT folks can wrap their heads around shared media), and probably for FTTB.  That is, if there is enough volume to get cost down.
brooks7 10/22/2014 | 9:04:38 AM
Re: Cost is the only important spec Get Short Range 10G transceivers to $10.  Then we can talk about an equipment company producing $100 ONTs.

jbtombes 10/21/2014 | 8:17:35 PM
Re: Cost is the only important spec Any bets on which company might get to that pricepoint first? 
brooks7 10/21/2014 | 5:47:36 PM
Cost is the only important spec  

Call me when one of these ONTs goes for $100.  Until then, we will be doing GPON.  The value of the client has not yet increased and you can do a lot of the video stuff on the overlay wavelengths.  FiOS uses that 3 wavelength deployment.

Just FYI, I did real time interactive gaming years ago.  Not sure why we need more bandwidth now.  The first MMORPG that scaled (Everquest) was built to be run over dial-up.  Many of those techniques are used today.

So until people plan to pay more for Internet Access I am not sure why anybody would deploy it.  Will they make it?  Sure - have to demonstrate that they are leaders.  Plus the Access Product Manager needs to have something on his roadmap.


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